Church of North India

A union of six denominations inaugurated on 29 November 1970 at Nagpur. The six were: Anglicans (the Church of India), with an estimated membership of 280,000; the United Church of Northern India, 230,000; Baptists, 110,000; Methodists of the British and Australian Conferences, 20,000; Church of the Brethren, 18,000; Disciples of Christ, 16,000. These figures were greatly modified by provisional statistics of the CNI, giving total membership as only 569,546, with 230,959 communicants. Initially nineteen dioceses were formed, stretching from Assam in the north to Nandyal in Andhra Pradesh (which is more “South” India than “North”). There were seventeen bishops, eight of them former Anglican bishops, and 917 presbyters. The synod comprised all the bishops plus equal lay and clerical representation from dioceses.

Efforts for union had begun in 1929; one of the bodies, the United Church of Northern India, was itself a union of Presbyterians and Congregationalists in 1924. A late development which greatly altered the complexion of the united church was the decision not to join by the Methodist Church in Southern Asia, numbering about 600,000. Other churches, such as the Lutherans, remained outside the union, and the churches of NE India (where the UCNI had half its membership) were yet to form a separate union. Although limited, the CNI union was nevertheless an important landmark in Indian church history and was generally regarded as a stage to still further union in making an All-India Church. In two respects the CNI union differed from that of the Church of South India* (1947) and had significance for other parts of the world:

(1) The CSI began with a “mixed” ministry, some ministers having been ordained by bishops and some not; and congregations could insist on having only an episcopally ordained minister celebrate Holy Communion. Thirty years were given for this problem to sort itself; all new ordinations were to be by bishops. Meanwhile the CSI had limited recognition by some other churches. The CNI avoided such a “mixed” ministry by a “representative act of unification of the ministry” at the inauguration of the church. Three CNI ministers, one a bishop, had hands laid on them by ten other ministers. The ten were (a) six representatives of the uniting churches, and (b) four ministers from outside the CNI area, including two bishops in the historic episcopate. The ten said, “May (God) continue in you his gifts and, in accordance with his will, may he bestow on you grace, commission and authority for your ministry, whether as a presbyter or as a bishop. . . .” The ten laid hands in silence on the three. After this, the three laid hands in turn on representative ministers of the uniting churches, including the aforementioned six, using the same words. At later services in the dioceses, the remainder of the ministry was “unified.” It was a rite which seemed to satisfy all around. An Anglican statement had recognized that “it is on the human level legitimate to place different interpretations upon what God does in the act.” And differ they did.

(2) The CNI permitted both infant baptism and believer's baptism (the latter having been practiced by Baptists, Disciples, and Church of the Brethren). Where there was no infant baptism, there was to be a service of infant dedication, and believer's baptism was to be followed by a service admitting to communicant membership, and including laying on of hands, which paralleled the Confirmation service for those baptized as infants. The mode of baptism could be immersion, affusion, or sprinkling.

See also India; and official publications Plan of Church Union in North India and Pakistan (4th ed., 1965) and Forward to Union: The Church of North India (1968).